The bulk of the current Springbok playing squad were a fantastic group four to six years ago. Rugby has a rhythm to it and there is a particular time for players and then, at a certain point, you reach your sell-by date. While the Springbok side to face Japan boasts a record 880 Test caps, I would have picked a much younger team because there is a time for you to win a World Cup and a time not to.
I’m really concerned about the average age of our starting line-up. The balance between youth and experience is very important, and I firmly believe a coach has to develop a World Cup squad at least two years before the tournament. In my book, South Africa does not boast a settled, well-developed squad and age is a big issue. Nobody can look past the fact that we are in possession of phenomenal athletes, and playing against the Springboks will prove a tough challenge for opposing teams.
However, will the Springboks be able to deliver seven world-class performances in a row? Owing to what I observed on the 2014 end-of-year tour and the 2015 Rugby Championship, I have my doubts whether South Africa will claim their third World Cup title. For me, their chances of success are slim.
We possess talented rugby players but, according to past performance, I wouldn’t put my mortgage on the Springboks. If I was a betting man I would place R10 on the Springboks and the other R90 would be split between Australia, New Zealand and France. You can never write off South Africa because we possess gifted players, but I believe ours is a much bigger coaching issue than we realise.
Among Heyneke Meyer’s coaching staff few have played in and none have won a World Cup, thus they are in unchartered territory. By comparison, if we examine New Zealand, Steve Hansen lost a World Cup and then won one as an assistant coach in 2011. He is now attending his third World Cup. Believe me, that is not by luck, but rather design. The All Blacks are experts in terms of succession planning and they fill their coaching group with personnel who wholly understand the team ethos.
You cannot tell me that Englishman John McFarland fully understands the ethos of the Springboks, and I refuse to believe that forwards coach Johann van Graan appreciates what it means to play for the Springboks. Van Graan has never played a Test for South Africa, so he cannot tell players what it feels like to pull on the green and gold jersey. To offer an analogy, if you were to open a retail chain store outlet and you could get one of Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Whitey Basson to assist you, who would you choose? I’m confident 100 percent of people would opt for Basson. While the first two men are the best in the world in their respective fields, in terms of the context in which you’re operating, Basson has been there and done it all before. The lack of intellectual property among the Bok coaching staff represents our biggest weakness and serves to undermine our rich playing talent.
The Springboks may have selected their most experienced side ever, but in terms of personal playing situations from which to draw, the coaching staff is wet behind the ears. Ricardo Loubscher and Louis Koen are the only men on the management team to have played Tests for South Africa. In my opinion, there would be great value in Johan Ackermann and Rassie Erasmus joining the Springbok coaching setup after the World Cup campaign. The pair they have amassed combined tally of 49 Test matches for South Africa. Ackermann has really grown as a coach since he took the helm at the Lions on a full-time basis in 2013. I believe he simply has to be in the Springbok coaching team next year.
But back to the present, and topping their pool is non-negotiable for the Springboks. Athletic-wise they boast too much talent for their group opponents to beat them, but coaching-wise, I’m worried.
The Japanese are coached by the street-smart Eddie Jones, and his charges will aim to play intelligent rugby. They will endeavour to keep the ball away from the big Bok forwards. However, that will be easier said than done, as our forwards are impressive athletes. The Japanese have improved and are well-conditioned, but to run the Boks close, they should send four or more players into every ruck and make sure they win their own ball and generate momentum. Japan will be very structured, will put numbers into the ruck and, when the ball is available, they will play quickly. However, if the Springboks get their game plan going, drive them, scrum them and run with their big ball-carriers, the dam wall will burst no later than 65 minutes and they will prevail by 40 points.
Le Roux represented South Africa in 54 Tests, from 1994 until 2002, and played at the 1999 Rugby World Cup.